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Winter Driving Tips For Truckers: How to Stay Safe and Get Through the Season

If you are a truck driver, you have to be ready for anything. Trucking is a dangerous job; long hours in unknown places and facing unexpected obstacles thrown your way. When you add winter season to the mix, it becomes especially difficult. We may not be able to control the weather, but we can always control our actions. It is important this time of year to prepare early, and know what to expect as you head out.  From icy roads to not getting stuck on the side of the road, here are some tips to keep you warm and safe this winter.winter driving trucking tips for usa and canada safety and tips for successWinter brings its own set of challenges. The most hazardous parts of winter driving include the reduced ability for the truck to stop, poor traction on the roads, and the stopping and braking on icy roads. Knowing what to expect and preparing yourself is key to staying safe.

HOW TO PREPARE FOR WINTER CONDITIONS 

Bring Your Supplies

In addition to your usual coat, gloves and boots, you want to make sure you bring some emergency supplies in the case of a troubles with the vehicle, or delays in unknown areas. You should also let someone know of your planned route and estimated arrival time before heading out.

Bring some of the following supplies to ensure safety, especially when going on long trips in the winter:

  • Flashlight
  • Extra Windshield Wiper Fluid
  • Blankets
  • Tire Chains
  • Jumper Cables
  • Snow brushes/cleaners
  • Sand, Salt and any traction devices
  • Charged Cell Phone  + Charger
  • Canned Food + Water
  • Shovel 
  • High visibility jacket or emergency lights/flares 
  • Invest in a CB radio

Inspect Your Vehicle in Detail

While your inspections are always important, in winter it is essential that you inspect everything from the lights to the tires, and ensure things are in working condition. Remember that tire traction is what determines how your truck turns, stops and drives on the road, so it is especially important to keep tires in check.

You want to clean the snow off any areas that may limit your visibility, as well as the ability of other vehicles to see you; clean the reflective tape and all the signal lights. Ensure your trailer lights are visible at all times. Check your lights as well, before leaving any rest stop or the gas station.

Some key areas to inspect are:

  • Tire pressure (low tire pressure creates issues with control on slippery roads)
  • Lights (visibility is essential, others need to be able to see you and you need to be able to see ahead)
  • Antifreeze and Windshield Wiper Fluid levels
  • Heater and defrosting mechanisms
  • Engine Oil
  • Exhaust pipe (make sure there is no snow buildup)
  • Battery
  • Windshield Wipers

Lower Your Speed

You want to make sure to adjust your driving habits to the conditions of the road and the weather around you. Defensive driving is essential year round, but in winter it becomes especially important for your safety, since visibility is limited and the roads are dangerous. The slower you are driving the more time you have to stop or react to anything unexpected. It also ensures less sliding around and risk of accident.

Keep both hands on the wheel at all times in the case you need to adjust. You want your movements to be gentle and slow; no rushed or quick turns, braking or anything sudden. 

Know The Conditions Before Heading In

Look ahead for any incoming storms or traffic/accident reports in the areas you plan on heading to. When you are driving you may also notice vehicles in the median which will tell you the road conditions may be worse than they look. Try to map out the weather conditions in each area as well as the time when you may be driving there, so you can make sure you miss any potential storms. Fog, black ice and wet roads are some of the most common challenging winter driving conditions.

Be Careful on Bridges

It is hard to anticipate weather or road conditions, but doing a little bit of research ahead of time can make a big difference. Keep in mind that elevated surfaces like bridges or overpasses can freeze over faster, so they may be extra icy or dangerous. Bridges are likely to be icy even when there is no ice on the roads, due to the open air, resulting in bridges cooling down faster than roads, especially in winter. 

Always Keep In Mind Black Ice

Perhaps the hardest part of winter driving is the black ice which accumulates on the road. It is not only found on elevated surfaces like bridges, but it is also on regular roads and it is hard to notice since it looks like  a wet road and not ice.

What is black ice? Black ice is what occurs when it rains or snow melts, and then temperatures drop, so the wet roads freeze up, while still looking like a regular wet road to the regular eye. It can be hard to spot, but very dangerous for drivers.

Check your truck mirrors or windshield for any frost, as this will tell you if the odds of black ice are higher. However, always try to drive as if there is black ice on the roads, for safety measure. Brake slowly and try not to make any sudden moves. If you are heading into an area, check the weather the day or two prior to see the temperatures and if it rained or snowed, it should tell you the likelihood of anticipating black ice. 

A good way to see if the road is freezing is to check tire spray from other vehicles, if there is water coming off the other vehicles then it is wet and slushy, but if the water coming off is limited or there is none, then likely there is ice and the roads are freezing over.

Consider Fuel Additives

You want to make sure you have enough fuel, since you may potentially face some delays or adverse conditions on the road. However, using anti-gel additive can also prevent your fuel from gelling which occurs in cold conditions. You add the additive before the fuel so that it can mix in there.

Careful With Acceleration

When you are accelerating or decelerating, do so slowly and with caution. Your tractor has to pull the trailer and since winter pavement conditions are not ideal, it causes more risk when it comes to the separate parts of your truck. You want to avoid a jackknife situation if you can. 

You also want to avoid using the Jake Brake, as in winter your trailer likely may not be as straight on the road and you could end up in trouble or spinning out of control.

Check Twice Before Crossing Intersection

Just because you have a green light does not mean that a vehicle can’t come out of nowhere and get in the way. Other cars cant brake as quick in winter conditions, so if somebody else is not driving properly, they may end up causing issues.

Watch for Crosswinds

When coming out of tunnels or areas which could have had a lot of trees, don't let crosswinds surprise you or destabilize you.

Increase Following Distance

You always want to maintain a safe distance between you and cars ahead, but in the winter, given black ice on the roads, it is important to increase this distance in order to give yourself room to stop or adjust if something comes up. Try for at least 10 to 15 seconds minimum following distance, or ten times the normal distance. A truck going 65 mph needs about 550 feet to come to a stop under ideal conditions, so winter driving would increase this distance and require more time and space. Remember that fast braking on ice will lead to issues, so stay safe. Add extra caution on entry and exit ramps, as any sudden turns can be dangerous.

CAR LENGTH  FOLLOWING DISTANCE (IDEAL CONDITIONS)
3 meters (10 feet) 1 second
For every 3 meters or 10 feet of a car length, the following distance increases in order to give time to stop safely. If your truck is longer than 3 meters then you need to estimate how many seconds minimum following distance is required, then add extra space and seconds for winter driving. 
 
 

WHAT TO AVOID IN WINTER CONDITIONS 

Avoid Cruise Control 

Do not use cruise control, as you will need to be alert and in control of your truck at all times due to the road conditions.

Avoid The Shoulder

If you need to pull over, do not pull over at the shoulder of a highway, as other drivers have low visibility and may run into you thinking that you are moving as opposed to stationary. Parking on the side of the road is a risk. Take an exit and go to a nearest rest stop if you need to pull over.

Avoid Following Other Vehicles

While in normal conditions we can look at brake lights and tail lights of vehicles in front, it is harder to judge the distance and road conditions in winter visibility. If you can see the car ahead tail lights you may be too close, and the driver in front of you can suddenly change their driving speed or method and you'll be in trouble. Do not follow the tail lights of the car in front, and do not follow their tire marks, as you do not know the condition of the road underneath. Rather, focus yourself on the lines of the road if you can see them, and go slow. If you can’t see the lines or anything ahead, it may be safer to pull over and wait.

Avoid Braking and Accelerating if You Start to Skid 

Steer slowly in the direction you want to go in. Even if your truck has ABS, still try to be careful when braking, avoid it as much as you can and only apply gentle steady pressure when needed.

Most Importantly...

Trust your own judgement. Be prepared to wait out certain conditions, as nothing is worth your safety and wellbeing. 

Sure you can't avoid the winter--but if you are a truck driver, that doesn't mean you have to stop driving all together. The season calls for skill, planning and awareness. Keep in mind a few of these tips and follow your own process that gets you where you need to be safely. Remember that no load is really worth your safety and life, and to always prioritize your instincts. 

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